Every New Years Eve, sadly Coastguard Rescue Teams and RNLI lifeboat crews are called out unnecessarily after people set off flares rather than fireworks. Flares are to request immediate assistance when someone is in grave and imminent danger at sea.
If the UK Coastguard receives an alert at or near the coast where a flare has been launched, it will always respond and won’t know the difference if they are being used as fireworks. This would put search and rescue teams at heightened unnecessary risk particularly during COVID-19 pandemic and potentially diverting from a legitimate emergency.
What do you do if you spot a flare that has been fired?
What is the difference between flares and fireworks?
Flares are typically red or orange and don’t last long – they are an internationally recognised distress signal.
Fireworks are typically colourful and often accompanied by a sound, leaving a smoke trail.
How do I dispose of time expired flares or pyrotechnic’s?
Firing off time expired flares or pyrotechnic’s is illegal and you could be prosecuted. It is illegal to fire them on land or on a harbour, fire them off at sea for training, testing or as fireworks; dump flares at sea or on land; and damaged and or out of date flares should not be used. Flares should be disposed of safely and as soon as possible.
Only contact the HM Coastguard when all other means of disposal have been exhausted:
Speak with the place you purchased them from. They may offer a ‘take back’ scheme (a small charge may apply)
Life raft service stations (some offer a service)
The local authority. They maybe accepted at local recycling centres, but you will need to contact them prior to attending or sending them
RNLI lifeboat stations, the RLSS (UK Royal Life Saving Society) and their affiliated lifesaving clubs, in common with many other charitable organisations, have cancelled their very popular festive swimming events due to COVID-19 safety considerations. Also taking into account the responsibility to ensure that blue light emergency services are not called out needlessly and the impact on the National Health Service is managed.
The RNLI and RLSS are urging anyone who does venture into the sea or other open water locations over the Christmas and New Year period to be aware of the risks and enjoy themselves as safely as possible.
The RNLI and HM Coastguard have both been busy responding to incidents involving swimmers this winter.
Earlier in December the Portishead lifeboat crew rescued a swimmer who had been in the sea for 80 minutes, while Sunderland lifeboat pulled another to safety after spotting him in the rough conditions thanks to his bright orange swimming cap and tow float.
Have Emergency call-outs to swimming related incidents increased?
HM Coastguard have reported a 79.8%* increase in emergency call-outs for swimming related incidents year-on-year between January and November, compared to the same period in 2019.
Lee Heard, RLSS UK – Director, said: ‘While festive dips are an increasingly popular tradition with brave bathers in plummeting temperatures, we are concerned that with the cancellation of well organised and lifeguarded events combined with a rise in open water swimming participation this year that individuals may still choose to dip this festive period.
‘We simply urge swimmers to stay safe, be prepared and consider their actions on our already stressed emergency services, including the RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews.’
Cold water shock is a very real danger for anyone entering water which is 15°C or below, with the average sea temperature around the UK and Ireland at this time of year just 6-10°C – which also poses a risk of hypothermia, even for the most experienced of open water swimmers.
RNLI Water Safety Partner Samantha Hughes said: ‘No one goes into the water in the expectation of needing to be rescued but we are asking anyone considering going for a festive dip to understand the dangers and not take unnecessary risks so they can have a good time, safely.
‘We recommend checking with your doctor before trying a cold water dip for the first time, especially if you have underlying health issues.
‘It is important to respect the water and there are a number of things you can do to help ensure you have an enjoyable and safe time such as not swimming alone, staying in your depth and knowing how to warm up properly afterwards which sounds obvious but is crucial to avoid any delayed effects of the cold and hypothermia.
‘The most important thing to remember is if you are in any doubt, stay out of the water and if you or anyone else does get into trouble in or on the water please call ‘999’ or ‘112’ immediately and ask for the Coastguard.’
What top safety tips should I follow if I intend going for a festive dip?
Should I wear a wetsuit? Yes, this will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering from cold water shock
Should I go with a friend? If at all possible, if you can’t go to a familiar bathing spot and tell someone when you plan to be back
What happens if I jump straight into the water? This could lead to cold water shock, walk in slowly. acclimatise slowly and wait until your breathing is under control before swimming
Should I wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float? Yes, always wear one that is brightly coloured and a tow float is highly recommended.
How deep should I go? Know your limits and don’t stay in the water for more than 10 minutes
I have heard of ‘float to live’ what does it mean? – If you get into trouble lean back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing. This is what the RNLI call ‘Float to Live’.
What number and who do I call if I get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble? Dial ‘999’ or ‘112’ immediately ask for the Coastguard giving as accurate location as possible
If I am in any doubt what should I do? There is always another day to go for a swim, if you have any doubts stay out of the water
Two of the Thanet RNLI Community Safety Team, Andy Mills and Ian Lockyer took part in the RNLI’s annual Winter fundraiser, the Reindeer run on Sunday 13th December. The pair together with Andy’s son, Ben and Thanet Roadrunners Jacquie Brazil, Ellis Johns and Eloise Kingett ran a 9-mile coastal route from Ramsgate RNLI station to Margate RNLI station taking in the customary hills and a strong wind which was fortunately behind the team for most of the distance.
The team who wore the obligatory antlers left Ramsgate station at 11.00am. They were given a fabulous send off from Eric Burton (Ramsgate Lifeboat Station Chairman), Sarah Hewes (RNLI Ramsgate Lifeboat Fundraising), Ray Noble (Ramsgate Lifeboat Fundraising) and John Litchfield (Kent Police PCSO – Ramsgate Harbour) despite the windy and wet conditions.
En route, they were met by their colleague on the Thanet Community Safety Team, John Homer and his wife Joan, who despite being blown away by the wind, gave the team plenty of encouragement.
Ian Lockyer, RNLI Community Safety Adviser said, “I wanted to take the team completely around the coast to highlight some of the challenges that the RNLI has to tackle including the numerous call-outs for cut-offs. By just being a little more prepared and taking into consideration the tide times walkers can avoid the embarrassment of getting the volunteer crews out”.
He added, “It was also important to show support to the volunteer boat crew that will be on call all through the Christmas period with the possibility of Christmas lunch being interrupted”.
“Lastly thanks to the team that ran this year and everyone who sponsored us….very much appreciated. Looking forward to doing this again in 2021, hopefully with a larger group”.
Whilst chatting at one of our team’s highly popular Coastal Dog Safety stands a dog owner asked us…”If I don’t have a mobile phone signal how can I call the Coastguard on the beach?” Your mobile can use any provider’s network for emergency calls to ‘999’ or ‘112’.
Some parts of the UK coastline and beaches do suffer from poor mobile phone reception. I noticed on one occasion trying to get a phone signal near impossible on Dumpton Gap in Thanet. However, changing position and moving up to the top of the cliff worked for the EE network when I needed to call the Coastguard via ‘999’ as a person had been cut-off by the tide.
We would always encourage people who take part in water activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, off-shore fishing or sailing to invest in a VHF radio and enrol on an RYA radio course. For coastal walking and most beach related activities a fully charged mobile phone in a waterproof case will be sufficient.
One of our Coastal Dog Safety events
Some phone’s will tell you this with ‘Emergency Calls Only’ on the screen. Even if the phone has no credit it will call. If you’re struggling to make a call in an emergency it’s worth trying the phone on the other side of your head as this maybe enough to block the signal.
How to call for help using your mobile phone
You can also try sending a text to ‘999’ (if pre-registered) if the phone signal is weak as a text may get through.
Here’s how to pre-register your mobile phone so that you can send an SMS to the emergency services
Send the word ‘register’ in an SMS message to ‘999’
You will then receive an SMS message about the service
When you have read these SMS messages reply by sending ‘yes’ in an SMS message to 999
You will receive a message telling you that your mobile phone is registered or if there is a problem about your registration
Your phone MUST BE registered before you use this service
Be aware that the text service may take longer than a normal ‘999’ call and it should only be used as a last resort – for example if calling ‘999’ and talking loud would put you in further danger or there is no mobile phone signal whatsoever
The SMS to ‘999’ must include which emergency service you need, a brief description of the emergency and your location (including any landmarks). An example of a good text “Coastguard required, one male in difficulty in the water Ramsgate main beach close to Wetherspoons. Ramsgate”.
Once you have sent a text you will receive a response which will ask for further detail, or indicate that help is en route.
Do not assume your message has been sent unless you receive a reply back sometimes this could take up to 2 minutes. If you do not receive any response try asking someone to call the emergency services.
Why not check out the RNLI mobile phone ‘calling for help’ leaflet below.
Carrying a ‘calling for help’ device such as a mobile phone is essential for taking part in any beach or coastal related activity. Knowing to call the Coastguard via ‘999’ or ‘112’ if you hear or see an animal or person in difficulty in the water straight away providing an accurate location is also essential knowledge if the correctly trained personnel and equipment can be sent to the scene as quickly as possible. Stay safe!
On Saturday (5th December 2020) our team are helping to celebrate International Volunteers day. International Volunteers Day is an international observance that was mandated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985. The day is an opportunity for us all to promote volunteerism, encourage everyone to support volunteer efforts and recognise volunteer contributions. After all, this year has been very challenging for all of us in a multitude of ways. Thousands of volunteers across the UK have been at the forefront of medical, community and societal responses to the pandemic. They should be applauded at every opportunity, giving up their valuable time to help others.
So, why do people volunteer? There are many reasons, but here are a few:
Give something back to the community
Make a difference to the people around us
Learn new skills
Meet new people and build friendships
Build on existing knowledge and experience
Become part of a team and feel valued
Gain confidence and increase self-esteem
Spend time away from a busy lifestyle or the working environment
Opportunity to socialise
Find new employment by enhancing employment prospects eg improving CV’s
The RNLI relies on 35,000 dedicated volunteers (making up 95% of their total strength) and the HM Coastguard indicate that they have 3,500 Coastguard Rescue Officers who are highly trained in missing person searching, first aid, water, mud and cliff rescue.
RNLI and HM Coastguard Teams have been busier than ever during 2020
RNLI and HM Coastguard Rescue Teams have been on-call throughout the pandemic providing round-the-clock search and rescue cover with an increasing number of call-outs to persons needing help and assistance due largely to an increase in people enjoying ‘staycations’ and days out at the coast. The RNLI have described the 2020 season as one like no other.
So, let’s get behind all those volunteers out there who freely volunteer their time and say a big thank you for everything they do and continue to do. Whenever you next meet a volunteer just say ‘thank you’. If you are a volunteer yourself, thank your colleagues and the team it will make all the difference!
Stay safe out there and thank you for reading.
How to stay safe during the pandemic
If you are out and about in your communities please help to stay safe by heeding the government advice for the particular tier or country which you are residing, visiting or working in.
Our team undertake lifejacket clinic’s at lifeboat station’s, yacht clubs and harbours from time to time and enjoy chatting to yachtsmen and women about all aspects of maritime safety. One question which crops up regularly relates to….. “what is the difference between a personal locator beacon and an automatic identification system”…… So, we have put together this blog to simply explain the differences.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
A PLB is a manually activated device that’s transmit’s a radio signal on the 406 MHz frequency to specific Cospas-Sarsat (international, humanitarian search and rescue system) low-earth orbiting and GPS satellites which detect and locate aviators, mariner’s and land-based users such as climbers, hikers or mountain bikers in remote locations in distress. The satellites then relay information, via ground tracking stations and Mission Control Centre’s (MCC), and then onto a rescue co-ordination centre.
Where is the UK’s Mission Control Centre?
The designated UK Mission Control Centre (MCC) is the National Maritime Operation’s Centre (NMOC) based at Fareham in Hampshire. Wherever in the world a UK registered PLB is activated, the Mission Control Centre in the respective country which it is operated will then pass the details to the NMOC for further action and investigation. This may involve the NMOC tasking search and rescue assets eg lifeboat, helicopter, Coastguard Rescue Team etc to the last location transmitted if in the UK.
How do PLB’s work?
Most PLB’s are also equipped with GPS receivers, thus being able to calculate and send an accurate location embedded within the beacon’s 406 MHz message. Other PLB’s without GPS rely solely upon the less accurate Doppler principle to establish the beacon’s position. The beacon also transmits a homing signal on VHF, to which Search and Rescue helicopters; and lifeboats can home in on.
The signal transmitted by the distress radio beacon includes a digital message which allows the transmission of encoded data such as the unique identifier for the beacon that transmitted the alert and if the beacon has an integral GPS, the beacon’s position. Otherwise the beacon’s signal may need to be detected by two or three satellites before its position can be sufficiently estimated, therefore it may take longer for Search and Rescue assets to locate the PLB and it’s owner.
Return Link Service PLB’s
Return Link Service PLB’s are being activated during 2020, which is a re-assurance signal back to a new generation of SAR beacons to inform the user that their distress signal and location have been detected. This new capability is unique to the Galileo satellites. A detailed blog explaining this new concept will be posted soon.
What happens when you have purchased a PLB?
Once a PLB unit is purchased, there are no subscription fees and the battery should last, if not used, for 5-6 years. You must register the PLB with the Marine Coastguard Agency and maintain accurate registration details, including the 24-hour Emergency Point of Contact details. UK Beacon Registry contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01326 211569
PLB’s are Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) approved. The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System is the technical, operational and administrative structure for maritime distress and safety communications worldwide.
How does the Automatic Identification System (AIS) work?
Automatic Identification System (AIS) Man-overboard (MOB) is a personal locator device that works electronically exchanging data with multiple ships and base station’s via VHF. It is not GMDSS approved or monitored in the UK by the HM Coastguard. It is also limited in range (around 5 miles in open water). An AIS MOB device can be rigged into a lifejacket to activate automically with the inflation of a lifejacket.
AIS is also a requirement for larger pleasure vessels on some European inland waterways. This varies by country and regionally by waterway.
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